Business Basics for Law Students
Thanks to Dave and the other folks at Concurring Opinions for inviting me to blog this month. I plan to write about two topics close to my heart: corporate law and the law school curriculum.
I want to start with a topic that combines both of my passions. Over the last four years, I have taught many students who develop an interest in corporate law after spending their undergraduate years studying philosophy, political science, or other non-business subjects. These students all worry that they do not have the business knowledge to succeed as corporate lawyers. It is easy to tell them that they will learn on the job, and certainly that is true to some extent, but I wonder if law schools should be doing more to introduce students to basic business and finance concepts.
I have often struggled with how to teach my students these concepts. On one hand, our job is to teach law. Teaching students about venture capital funding or accounting rules is arguably beyond this purview, at least unless a case deals directly with these concepts. On the other hand, I want to prepare my students to be lawyers, a task that requires teaching more than just the black letter law. I would hate to send my students out into the world with a strong understanding of Revlon and Unocal, but with no understanding of the business issues underlying basic M&A transactions.
The conventional approaches to teaching these skills have always seemed unsatisfying to me. Many professors require their students to read the Wall Street Journal every day. I think it is great to get future corporate lawyers into the habit of reading the business press, but I am also not sure that it really teaches them basic business skills. They may learn which hedge funds are making the most money (good information for client development, I suppose), but they still may not understand exactly what hedge funds do.
Other professors try to cover business basics in their traditional law courses. While discussing a case about venture capitalists, you can explain the concept of stage financing. In a case about accounting misstatements, you can discuss revenue recognition and reserve policies. But I am already hard-pressed to cover all of the relevant legal rules in my courses, and there is no way students leave my Corporations class with anything more than a scattershot sense of a few business concepts.
Finally, many schools offer students the opportunity to get a joint JD/MBA. I am not sure, however, that these programs target the business skills that law students most need to know. Full-semester courses on marketing and organizational management may be overkill for most law students.
I wonder about a simpler solution. What if law schools offered business courses geared directly to law students? In many ways, of course, law schools already do this. Most law schools offer corporate finance and accounting, two courses where students may not read a single case or statute, focusing instead on core business concepts. Yet for the political science major who hopes to be a transactional lawyer, these courses leave out crucial information about how the business world works. A course titled something like Introduction to Business Concepts could target this information directly. It could start by introducing the main players and then teach students about different facets of the business world. It could give students a concrete sense of what investment bankers, credit managers, and angel investors do and how different divisions operate in a typical business. It could also include guest speakers from various businesses to give students a real-life perspective on how businesses operate.
Does your school offer such a course? If so, how is it working?